Since the Education for All Handicapped Children Act was passed in 1975, schools have been required to provide children with disabilities a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE). LRE is another key principle of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and an integral part of the IDEA's FAPE guarantee.
The conceptual core of IDEA’s LRE provisions is located at §300.114(a) (2), which appears below. Additional provisions continue through §300.120.
LRE Provisions: §300.114(a)(2).
(2) Each public agency must ensure that -
This provision is included in rule 3301-51-09(B)(2) of the Administrative Code.
As IDEA has been reauthorized, its LRE principles have been further bolstered and supported. The 1997 amendments to IDEA made progressive changes by helping to ensure children with disabilities access to the general education curriculum. That reauthorization first introduced IEP requirements with direct connections to general education, such as including a general education teacher on the IEP team and requiring an explanation in the IEP of the extent, if any, to which a child will not participate in the regular class and nonacademic activities with children who do not have disabilities.
IDEA’s LRE provisions clearly state a strong preference for educating children with disabilities in regular education environments. In fact, a child’s placement in the general education classroom is the first option the IEP team must consider when determining where a child with a disability will receive his or her special education and related services.
To decide that question, however, the IEP team must make an individualized inquiry into the possible range of supplementary aids and services that are needed to satisfactorily educate the child in the general education environment. If the IEP team determines that the child can be adequately educated in that environment, then general education placement is the LRE for that child.
However, the IEP team may determine that the child cannot be educated satisfactorily in the general education classroom, even when supplementary aids and services are provided. An alternative placement must then be considered. Accordingly, IDEA requires school systems to ensure that a "continuum of alternative placements" is available to meet the needs of children with disabilities for special education and related services.
Although a school district is not responsible for ensuring that every school building in the district can provide all the special education and related services necessary for all types and severities of disabilities (Federal Register, August 14, 2006, pg. 46588), the school district is responsible for having the full continuum of options available. If an option is not available in the district and the LRE of a child with disability indicates that placement, the school district must either create the placement, alter an existing one or send the child to another public or private placement that meets the child’s needs. If the school district puts a child in another public or private placement, the cost of that placement is paid by the school district.
In IDEA, the provisions at §300.115 contain the public agency’s obligation to make available a range of alternative placements for children. Those provisions are:
§300.115 Continuum of alternative placements.
Ohio's rules include this requirement in rule 3301-51-09(C) of the Administrative Code.
The continuum of alternative placements reinforces the importance of the individualized evaluation instead of a one-size-fits-all approach in determining which placement is the LRE for each child with a disability.
The IDEA also addresses nonacademic settings in §300.117. Ohio’s rules have adopted this same requirement at rule 3301-51-09(E) of the Administrative Code.
§300.117 Nonacademic settings.
In providing or arranging for the provision of nonacademic and extracurricular services and activities, including meals, recess periods, and the services and activities set forth in §300.107, each public agency must ensure that each child with a disability participates with nondisabled children in the extracurricular services and activities to the maximum extent appropriate to the needs of that child. The public agency must ensure that each child with a disability has the supplementary aids and services determined by the child’s IEP Team to be appropriate and necessary for the child to participate in nonacademic settings.
This provision again invokes the LRE language in the requirement that a public agency “must ensure that each child with a disability participates with nondisabled children to the maximum extent appropriate to the needs of the child.” Additionally, this provision reinforces the required use of supplementary aids and services to ensure the participation of children with disabilities in nonacademic and extracurricular services and activities.
LRE provisions were substantially revised in IDEA 1997. That reauthorization of IDEA introduced what’s called placement-neutral funding, a requirement of law that is maintained in IDEA 2004. Included within the provisions, at §300.114, where the conceptual core of LRE also is found, is an additional requirement that prohibits states from using a funding mechanism that results in placements violating LRE requirements. States also may not use any funding mechanism that distributes funds based on the type of setting in which a child is served.
Basically, LRE refers to the setting in which a child with a disability can receive an appropriate education designed to meet his or her educational needs, alongside peers without disabilities, to the maximum extent appropriate. LRE is one of several vital components in the development of a child’s IEP and plays a critical role, influencing where a child spends his or her time at school, how services are provided and the relationships the child develops within the school and community.
Kupper, L. (2007, July). The Top 10 Basics of Special Education (Module 1). Building the legacy: IDEA 2004 Training curriculum. Washington, DC: National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities. Available online at: http://www.nichcy.org/training/contents.asp
Rebhorn, T., & Smith, A. (2008, April). LRE decision making (Module 15). Building the legacy: IDEA 2004 training curriculum. Washington, DC: National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities. Available online at: www.nichcy.org/training/contents.asp